Scandal and corruption in Congress
22nd June 2023
Author: Michael J. Pomante II, Assistant Professor of political science at Jacksonville University
Since we published Scandal and Corruption in Congress in 2022, there have been many examples demonstrating Congress' failure to address actions damaging our governing institutions. In this highly polarised political climate we find ourselves in, Congress appears unwilling to take any action that might prohibit scandalous or corrupt behaviour.
One example is the House Select Committee's investigation into the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Specifically, the bi-partisan committee revealed that groups associated with carrying out the attack had "dozens of briefings" with Republican congressional members and their staff.[i] Republican members allegedly involved in these meetings include Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, Mo Brooks, Madison Cawthorn, and Louie Gohmert. In addition to these members, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, and Andy Biggs also allegedly engaged in actions to help Trump overturn the committees have yet to investigate or punish any of these individuals.[ii]
In addition, there are numerous other actions that the Congressional ethics committees have failed or been slow to investigate. These additional examples include George Santos' lies about his qualifications in his 2022 election campaign and many other scandals.[iii] While media outlets quickly identified and reported these lies, Republican House members have been slow to hold Santos accountable because of their slim majority in the chamber. This lack of action demonstrates to Americans that winning at all costs is acceptable. Similarly, the House ethics committee has failed to act against Marjorie Taylor Greene for her outburst calling President Biden a "liar" during his 2022 State of the Union Address.[iv] Again, this is a dramatic shift in civility and behavioral norms expected by Congressional members. In comparison, in 2009, when Joe Wilson shouted "You lie" to President Obama during a speech to a joint session of Congress, he was quickly condemned and rebuked by the House.
Beyond these members' actions, dark money continues to flow throughout American politics. For example, according to OpenSecretes.org, more than $1 billion flowed into the 2020 elections, with most money benefiting Democrats.[v] However, in 2022 The Lever, ProPublica, and The New York Times discovered a dark money donation of $1.6 billion from an undisclosed individual to a Republican group controlled by Lenard Leo.[vi] Leo used the funds to lobby for appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.[vii] He also used the funds to block government regulations, fight against climate change and limit voting rights policies.[viii]
Sadly, it seems the intense polarization in the country has led portions of the American public to disregard these deviations from acceptable behavior. For example, early in Marjorie Taylor Greene's first term, the House voted to remove her from all her committee assignments for her violent and incendiary comments against Democrats.[ix] Yet, despite her statements and actions, constituents in Georgia's 14th House district reelected Greene to her seat by a 30% vote margin.[x] Not to mention, Greene has used rebukes of her actions and statements as funding opportunities.[xi]
Regrettably, it appears that the current political climate in the United States will prevent any significant reform during the 118th Congress. At this time in history, some members of Congress seem to delight in breaking institutional rules and norms. Unfortunately, this highly partisan era has created a climate where political donors reward rule-breakers with more funding. If politicians are no longer punished and, in some cases, rewarded for misconduct, it is unlikely that their unethical behavior will change.[xii]
While our text clarifies that corruption in the U.S. is generally lower than in other nations, its presence is still problematic and has lasting consequences. Scandal and Corruption in Congress aimed to bring a more contemporary look into the misconduct of Congressional members. Our text touches on many aspects of unethical behavior in our modern-day Congress. However, the health of our governing institutions requires citizens to trust elected officials to work in the community's best interest. Unfortunately, with the growing partisan divisiveness, Members of Congress appear to be more concerned about winning at all costs or advancing their interests over the nation's. Therefore, the academic community must persist in understanding this behavior in this highly partisan climate. Furthermore, scholars must explore how this intense partisan era has altered the occurrence and acceptance of scandal and corruption among the parties and voters. Scandal and Corruption in Congress will help bring any student up to date on the evolution of unethical behavior in the contemporary United States Congress.
*The opinions expressed in these publications are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Emerald Publishing or its employees.
About the author
Michael J. Pomante II is an assistant professor of political science at Jacksonville University. He obtained his Ph.D. in political science at Northern Illinois University in 2016.
Michael has published research in American Politics Research and Election Law Journal. In 2020 he published the Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress. His co-authored text, the Historical Dictionary of the Barack Obama Administration, was awarded a Choice Outstanding Academic Title in 2018.
- [i] Matthew Loh. Oct. 25, 2021. "Jan. 6 protest organizers say they met with GOP representatives such as Paul Gosar, Madison Cawthorn, and Lauren Boebert ahead of Capito insurrection: report" Business Insider (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [ii] Ewan Palmer. Jan. 10, 2023. "GOP Preemptively Strikes down ethics Probe into action of four republicans." Newsweek (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [iii] Brian Mann, March 2, 2023. "The House Ethics Committee is investigating Rep. George Santos." NPR (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [iv] Aaron Blake. Feb. 9, 2023. "Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t the only one pushing the bounds of decorum" Washington Post. (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [v] Anna Massoglia and Karl Evers-Hillstrom. March 17, 2021. "’Dark money’ topped $1 billion in 2020, largely boosting Democrats." Open Secrets. (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [vi] Kenneth P. Vogel and Shane Goldmacher, Aug. 22, 2022. "An Unusual $1.6 Billion Donation Bolsters Conservatives." The New York Times. (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [vii] Jonaki Mehta and Courtney Dorning June 30, 2022. "One man’s outsized role in shaping the Supreme Court and overturning Roe." NPR. (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [viii] David Sirota and Joel Warner. Aug. 29, 2022. "Billions in ‘dark money’ is influencing US politics. We need disclosure laws." The Guardian. (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [ix] Barbara Sprunt. Feb. 4, 2021. "House Removes Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene From Her Committee Assignments." NPR. (last accessed 3/20/23).
- [x] Katy Stech Ferek. Nov. 8, 2022. "Marjorie Taylor Greene Easily Wins Re-Election in Georgia" The Wall Street Journal. (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [xi] Lisa Mascaro. Oct. 10, 2022. "Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene rises from GOP fringe to front." Associated Press. (last accessed 3/20/2023).
- [xii] Steven T. Dennis. Nov. 3, 2022. "Manchin Tells CEOs to Stop Rewarding Bad Behavior With Campaign Checks." Bloomberg. (last accessed 3/20/2023).
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